The ketogenic or “keto” diet has been around since the 1920s, so it’s definitely not new, but why has it become so popular among celebrities all of a sudden? It has a lot of people wondering if there’s real science behind the ketogenic diet, or if it’s just another weird fad. Understandable! Since I’ve received so many questions about it, I decided to do a little digging, and here are some surprising things I found out!
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
So, here’s the thing about the ketogenic diet: You can have the pig, but you’re going to have to take the apple out of its mouth first. Why? On the keto diet, you can eat all the bacon you want, but fruit is a no-no! (Although the occasional handful of berries seems to be OK.)
The ketogenic diet is a very high fat, low-carb, adequate protein eating plan that essentially forces your body to burn fat rather than carbohydrates for energy. This eating plan has been reported to reduce risk factors for neurological disorders and cancer. It is also being used for weight loss and maintenance by many of its advocates.
Example of foods you would eat on a keto diet:
Full-Fat Dairy (Milk, Butter)
Oils (Olive, Coconut)
Protein (Meat, Poultry, Fish, Seafood)
Examples of foods you would avoid on a keto diet:
How the Ketogenic Diet Works
Glucose is your body’s primary source of fuel since it is the easiest molecule for your body to convert to energy. However, greatly lowering your intake of carbohydrates while simultaneously increasing your intake of fat and protein, will put your body in a state known as “ketosis”. When this happens, your body will begin using fat as fuel instead of glucose.
Is There Real Science Behind the Ketogenic Diet?
The original purpose of the ketogenic diet was to treat seizures, and this was introduced in the 1920s. However, when anticonvulsant medications became available, the use of this diet quickly fell out of favor.
The 1990s saw a renewed interest in ketones when Dr. Robert Atkins (of “Atkins Diet” fame), popularized them for their impressive effects on weight loss.
What Are the Health Benefits of the Keto Diet?
Research has revealed that ketones can treat brain diseases and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer!
Let’s take a look at these benefits a little more closely:
- Brain Health
Research has shown that when ketones are produced in the liver, they are also produced by brain cells called astrocytes. These compounds help protect the brain and keep it in prime function.
Ketones have been shown to halt the destruction of brain cells, decrease the production of free radicals, boost brain-protective antioxidants, and reduce amyloid plaque (which is a sticky substance that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease development).
According to a study published in Frontiers and Pharmacology, ketone bodies have been shown to possess neuroprotective properties and have the ability to stabilize synaptic function.
This makes the ketogenic diet a good candidate for the natural treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s, oxygen deficiency (hypoxia), ischemia (deficiency of blood supply to the brain), and traumatic brain injury.
Professor Thomas Seyfried, Ph.D., author of Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer, explains how cancer can be viewed and treated as a disease of the metabolism.
There are two primary types of metabolic processes that take place in our bodies: Fermentation and respiration.
Fermentation is the process of sugar being converted to acids, alcohol, or gases, whereas respiration is the oxidation of foodstuffs in the body tissue, the production of carbon dioxide and water, and the exchange of respiratory gasses in the lungs.
When metabolic disease develops, fermentation supports the growth of tumor cells, whereas the respiration process creates an unwelcome environment for tumor cells.
Therefore, cancer growth and progression may be managed by switching the metabolism from fermentable metabolites (glucose and glutamine) to respiratory metabolites (ketone bodies).
Your healthy cells are able to adapt from using glucose as fuel to ketone bodies as fuel. Cancer cells, on the other hand, are unable to do this, which is how the ketogenic diet has the potential to starve cancer without starving you!
What Are Some Drawbacks of the Keto Diet?
As with any new dietary or lifestyle change, the ketogenic diet should be approached with awareness and caution. Anyone who has a serious medical condition, is on prescription medications, has gout or kidney stones, or is a serious athlete, should talk with their doctor before trying the keto diet.
Type 1 diabetics are vulnerable to a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis on the ketogenic diet. (This means there is an extremely large amount of ketones in the blood.) Although, this only appears to happen in diabetics whose insulin is not properly regulated.
Furthermore, it may not be healthy for some people to keep their bodies in a state of ketosis for longer than a few weeks.
Jo Ann Carson, a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center and the chair of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Nutrition Committee cautions,
“It probably is particularly important if you’re going to try something like a ketogenic diet is to really check with your physician [and] get lab work done to make sure you’re not doing extreme harm.”
She goes on to explain that ketogenic diets can cause more calcium to be lost in the urine, which may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Celebrities That Swear By the Keto Diet!
Despite some of its contraindications, many famous celebrities swear by the benefits of this diet.
A notable few:
- Halle Berry
Have you ever wondered how this beautiful actress has always looked so much younger than she is? (At 51, she looks decades younger!) For her, the fountain of youth may have come in the form of the ketogenic diet. Although she prefers not to call it a diet, but rather refers to it as a lifestyle change. Not only does she use it to manage her type 2 diabetes, she also says the diet is “largely responsible for slowing down my aging process.”
- Vanessa Hudgens
This 29-year-old stunner swears by the health benefits of avocado and other healthy fats. She says, “I think that we’ve been brainwashed to think that fat is bad, but really, it’s what[‘s] going to make you feel fuller longer.”
Experts agree. Since fat takes a longer time to digest, it can promote feelings of fullness and help curb those between-meal cravings.
- LeBron James
Although the ketogenic diet is contraindicated for athletes, it didn’t stop LeBron James, 33, from giving it a go. For 67 days, he dedicated himself to following a combination ketogenic and Paleo plan that concentrated around meat, fish, vegetables, and the occasional low-sugar fruit.
According to Sports Illustrated, LeBron says that the ketogenic diet was a test of his mental strength and willpower, but it was worth it to him to bring a championship level to Cleveland.
Important: Remember to talk with your doctor before starting any new diet or exercise plan, and do more reading and research on your own to decide if the diet is right for you.
The ketogenic diet may not be for everybody, but it has been scientifically proven to treat neurological conditions since the 1920s, and, while it may help you lose weight as a “side effect”, it’s no mere fad.
For some, it’s a literal lifesaver!